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Authors: Colleen Hoover

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BOOK: Reminders of Him
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She didn’t see me pull up because her back was to the parking lot, and she hasn’t noticed I’ve been sitting here for several minutes.

She lights another sparkler for the girl, who then proceeds to make a mad dash with her sparkler and leave trails of light with her as she disappears around the corner.

Once Kenna is alone, she presses her palms to her eyes and tilts her face up to the sky. She stands like that for a few seconds. Then she wipes her eyes with her T-shirt.

The girl reappears and Kenna smiles, then the girl disappears, and Kenna lets her face fall back into a frown.

She’s just turning it on and off and on and off, and I don’t like that I like that she’s pretending not to be sad every time that girl comes running back to her. Maybe Roman
was
right.

The girl returns once more and hands her another sparkler. As she’s lighting it, Kenna looks up and spots my truck. Her whole body seems to shrivel, but she forces a smile toward the girl and makes a motion for the girl to run around the building. As soon as the girl is gone again, Kenna begins to head in my direction.

It’s obvious I’ve been sitting here watching her. I don’t even try to hide that. I unlock my door right before she reaches my truck and climbs inside.

She slams the door. “Are you here with good news?”

I shift in my seat. “No.”

She opens the door and starts to get out.

“Wait, Kenna.”

She pauses, and then closes the door and remains in my truck. It’s so quiet. She smells like gunpowder and matches, and there’s a strange
current inside this truck that’s so palpable I expect the whole damn truck to explode. But it doesn’t. Nothing happens. No one speaks.

I finally clear my throat. “Are you gonna be okay?” My concern is buried beneath a stone-cold exterior, so I know my question seems forced, as if I don’t care what the response might be.

Kenna tries to get out of the truck again, but I grab her wrist. Her eyes meet mine.

“Are you gonna be
okay
?” I repeat.

She stares hard at me with her swollen, red eyes. “Are you . . .” She shakes her head, seemingly confused. “Are you here because you’re afraid I might
kill
myself?”

I don’t like how she seems to want to laugh at my concern. “Am I worried you aren’t in a good headspace?” I ask, reframing her question. “Yeah. I am. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Her head tilts slightly to the right as she turns her whole body so that she’s facing me in her seat. Her shoulder-length strands of straight hair lean with her. “That’s not it,” she says. “You’re worried if I end my life, you’ll be left feeling guilty that you’ve been so unbearably cruel to me.
That’s
why you came back. You don’t care if I
actually
kill myself—you just don’t want to be the impetus for my decision.” She shakes her head with a shallow laugh. “You did it. You checked on me. Your conscience is clear now, goodbye.”

Kenna goes to open her door, and the girl she was lighting sparklers for suddenly appears at her passenger window. Her nose is pressed against the glass.

“Roll down this window,” Kenna says to me.

I turn my key so that I can roll down her window. The girl leans in, smiling at us. “Are you Kenna’s dad?”

Her question is so out of left field, I can’t help but laugh. Kenna laughs too.

Diem has Scotty’s laugh and smile. Kenna’s laugh is her own. One I haven’t heard before this second. One I want to hear again.

“He’s definitely not my dad,” Kenna says. She cuts her eyes to mine. “He’s the guy I told you about earlier. The one keeping me from my little girl.” Kenna opens her door and hops out.

She slams my truck door, and then the teenage girl leans in the passenger window and says, “Jerk.”

Kenna grabs the girl’s hand and pulls her away from the truck. “Come on, Lady Diana. He’s not on our side.” Kenna walks away with the girl and she doesn’t look back, no matter how much I want her to and
don’t
want her to, and
fuck, my brain is a pretzel
.

I’m not sure I could be on her side even if I wanted to be. This whole situation contains so many nooks and crannies and corners I get the feeling
choosing sides
is going to be the downfall of all of us.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

K
ENNA

Here’s the thing.

It shouldn’t matter if a mother isn’t perfect. It shouldn’t matter if she’s made one big, horrible mistake in the past, or a lot of little ones. If she wants to see her child, she should be allowed to see her, even if it’s just once.

I know from experience that if you’re going to grow up with an imperfect mother, it’s better to grow up knowing your imperfect mother is fighting for you than to grow up knowing she doesn’t give a shit about you.

There were two years of my life—not consecutive—that were spent in foster care. My mother wasn’t an addict or an alcoholic. She just wasn’t a very good mother.

Her neglect was validated when I was seven and she left me alone for a week when some guy she met at the dealership where she worked offered to fly her to Hawaii.

A neighbor noticed I was home alone, and even though my mother told me to lie if anyone asked, I was too scared to lie when the social worker showed up at our door.

I was placed into a foster family for nine months while my mother worked to get her rights back. There were a lot of kids and a lot of rules
and it felt more like a strict summer camp, so when my mother finally regained custody of me, I was relieved.

The second time I was placed in foster care, I was ten. I was the only foster child, placed with a woman in her sixties named Mona, and I stayed with her for almost a year.

Mona wasn’t anything spectacular, but the simple fact that she watched movies with me every now and then, cooked dinner every night, and did laundry was more than my own mother ever did. Mona was average. She was quiet, she wasn’t very funny, she wasn’t even all that fun, but she was
present
. She made me feel taken care of.

I realized during the year that I was with Mona that I didn’t need my mother to be spectacular, or even great. I just wanted my mother to be adequate enough to not have the state intervene in her parenting. That isn’t too much for a child to ask of the parent who gave them life.
“Just be adequate. Keep me alive. Don’t leave me alone.”

When my mother regained custody of me for the second time and I had to leave Mona, it was different than the first time I was returned to her. I wasn’t excited to see her. I had turned eleven while living with Mona, and I came home with all the appropriate emotions an eleven-year-old would develop with a mother like mine.

I knew that I was going back to an environment where I would have to fend for myself, and I wasn’t happy. I was being returned to a mother who wasn’t even adequate.

Our relationship never got back on track after that. My mother and I couldn’t have a conversation without it turning into a fight. After a few years of this, when I was around fourteen, she eventually stopped trying to parent me, and instead it felt like I had become her enemy.

But I was self-sufficient by then and didn’t need my mother coming in twice a week and pretending she had any say over me when she knew nothing about my life, or who I was as a person. We lived together until I graduated high school, but we were not friends and there was no relationship between us whatsoever. When she spoke to me, her words
were insults. Because of that, I eventually just stopped speaking to her. I preferred the neglect over the verbal abuse.

By the time I met Scotty, it had been two years since I’d heard her voice.

I thought I’d never speak to her again, not because we had some huge falling-out, but because our relationship was a burden and I think we both felt like we’d been set free when that relationship broke down.

I didn’t realize how desperate I would one day become, though.

We had gone almost three years without speaking when I reached out to her from prison. I was desperate. I was seven months pregnant, Grace and Patrick had already filed for custody, and because of the length of my sentence, I found out they were also petitioning for termination of my parental rights.

I understood why they were doing it. The baby would need somewhere to go, and I preferred the Landrys over anyone else I knew, especially my mother. But to find out they wanted to terminate my rights permanently was terrifying. That meant I wouldn’t see my daughter at all. I wouldn’t have say over her, even after my release. But because I had such a long sentence, and there was no one else I could grant custody of my daughter to, I had to reach out to the only family member who could possibly help me.

I thought maybe, if my mother fought for visitation rights as a grandparent, I could at least be left with some control over what happened to my daughter in the future. And maybe if my mother had visitation rights with my daughter, she could bring my baby to the prison after she was born so I would at least be able to know her.

When my mother walked into the visitation room that day, she had a smug smile on her face. It wasn’t a smile that said, “I’ve missed you, Kenna.” It was a smile that said,
“This doesn’t surprise me.”

She looked pretty, though. She was wearing a dress, and her hair had gotten so long since I’d last seen her. It was odd seeing her for the first time as her equal, rather than as a teenager.

We didn’t hug. There was still so much tension and animosity between us we didn’t know how to interact.

She sat down and motioned toward my stomach. “This your first?”

I nodded. She didn’t seem excited to be a grandmother.

“I googled you,” she said.

That was her way of saying
I read what you did.
I dug my thumbnail into my palm to stop myself from saying something I’d regret. But every word I wanted to say was a word I’d regret, so we sat there in silence for the longest time while I tried to figure out where to start.

She tapped her fingers on the table, growing impatient with my silence. “So? Why am I here, Kenna?” She pointed at my stomach. “You need me to raise your child?”

I shook my head. I didn’t want her to raise my child. I wanted the parents who raised a man like Scotty to raise my child, but I also wanted to
see
my child, so as much as I wanted to get up and walk away from her in that moment, I didn’t.

“No. The paternal grandparents are getting custody of her. But . . .” My mouth was dry. I could feel my lips sticking together when I said, “I was hoping you’d petition for visitation rights as the grandmother.”

My mother tilted her head. “Why?”

The baby moved at that moment, almost as if she was begging me not to ask this woman to have anything to do with her. I felt guilty, but I was out of options. I swallowed and put my hands on my stomach. “They want to terminate my rights. If they do that, I’ll never get to see her. But if you have rights as a grandmother, you could bring her here to see me every now and then.” I sounded like the six-year-old version of myself. Scared of her, but still in need of her.

“It’s a five-hour drive,” my mother said.

I didn’t know where she was going with that comment.

“I have a life, Kenna. I don’t have time to take your baby on five-hour road trips to see her mother in prison every week.”

“I . . . it wouldn’t have to be weekly. Just whenever you can.”

My mother shifted in her seat. She looked angry with me, or annoyed. I knew she’d be bothered by the drive, but I thought once she saw me, she’d at least think the drive was worth it. I was at least hoping she’d show up wanting to redeem herself. I thought maybe, after finding out she was going to be a grandmother, she’d feel like she got a do-over, and she’d actually
try
this time.

“I haven’t received one phone call from you in three years, Kenna. Now you’re asking for favors?”

I didn’t get a single phone call from her, either, but I didn’t bring that up. I knew it would only make her angry. Instead, I said, “
Please.
They’re going to take my baby.”

There was nothing in my mother’s eyes. No sympathy. No empathy. I realized in that moment that she was glad she’d gotten rid of me and had no intention of being a grandmother. I’d expected it. I was just hoping she’d grown a conscience in the years since I’d last seen her.

“Now you’ll know how I felt every time the state took you from
me
. I went through so much to get you back both times, and you never appreciated it. You never even said thank you.”

She really wanted a
thank-you
? She wanted me to thank her for being so shitty at being a parent that the state took me from her
twice
?

I stood up and left the room in that moment. She was saying something to me as I left, but I couldn’t hear her because I was so angry at myself for being desperate enough to call her. She hadn’t changed. She was the same self-centered, narcissistic woman I had grown up with.

I was on my own. Completely.

Even the baby still growing in my stomach didn’t belong to me.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

L
EDGER

Patrick and I started building the swing set in my backyard today. Diem’s birthday isn’t for a few more weeks, but we figured if we could get it put together before her party, she and her friends would have something to play on.

The plan sounded feasible, but neither of us knew building a swing set would be a lot like building an entire damn house. There are pieces everywhere, and without instructions, it’s caused Patrick to mutter
fuck
at least three times. He rarely ever uses that word.

We’ve avoided talk of Kenna up to this point. He hasn’t brought it up, so I haven’t brought it up, but I know it’s all he and Grace have been thinking about since she showed up on our street yesterday.

But I can tell the silence on that subject is about to end, because he stops working and says, “Welp.”

That’s always the word Patrick uses before he’s about to start a conversation he doesn’t want to have, or if he’s about to say something he knows he shouldn’t say. I picked up on it when I was just a teenager. He’d walk into Scotty’s room to tell me it was time for me to go home, but he’d never actually say what he intended to say. He’d just talk around it. He’d tap the door and say,
“Welp. Guess you two have school tomorrow.”

Patrick sits in one of my patio chairs and rests his tools on the table. “It’s been quiet today,” he says.

I’ve learned to decipher the things he doesn’t say. I know he’s referring to the fact that Kenna hasn’t shown back up.

“How’s Grace?”

“On edge,” he says. “We spoke to our lawyer last night. He assured us there’s nothing she can legally do at this point. But I think Grace is more concerned she’ll do something stupid, like swipe Diem from the T-ball field when none of us are looking.”

“Kenna wouldn’t do that.”

Patrick laughs half-heartedly. “None of us know her, Ledger. We don’t know what she’s capable of.”

I know her better than he thinks I do, but I’ll never admit that. But Patrick may also be right. I know what it’s like to kiss her, but I have no idea who she is as a human.

She seems to have good intentions, but I’m sure Scotty thought the same thing about her before she walked away from him when he needed her the most.

I’m getting loyalty whiplash. One minute I feel horrible for Patrick and Grace. The next, I feel horrible for Kenna. There has to be a way everyone can compromise without Diem being the one to suffer.

I take a drink of water to pad the silence, and then I clear my throat. “Are you at all curious about what she wants? What if she’s not trying to take Diem? What if she just wants to meet her?”

“Not my concern,” Patrick says abruptly.

“What is?”

“Our suffering is my concern. There’s no way Kenna Rowan can fit into our lives, or Diem’s life, without it affecting our sanity.” He’s focusing on the ground now, as if he’s working all this out in his head as it’s coming out of his mouth. “It’s not that we think she’d be a bad mother. I certainly don’t think she’d be
good
. But what would this do
to Grace if she were to have to share that little girl with that woman? If she had to look her in the eye every week? Or worse . . . what if Kenna somehow made a judge feel sorry for her and her rights were reinstated? Where would that leave Grace and me? We already lost Scotty. We can’t lose Scotty’s daughter too. It’s not worth the risk.”

I get what Patrick is saying. Completely. But I also know that after getting to know Kenna just over the last couple of days, the hatred I had for her is starting to turn into something else. Maybe that hatred is turning into empathy. I feel like that could possibly happen to Patrick and Grace if they gave her a chance.

Before I can even think of something to say, Patrick reads the expression on my face. “She killed our son, Ledger. Don’t make us feel guilty for not being able to forgive that.”

I wince at Patrick’s response. I’ve somehow hit a nerve with my silence, but I’m not here to make him feel guilty for the decisions they’ve made. “I would never do that.”

“I want her out of our lives and out of this town,” Patrick says. “We won’t feel safe until both of those things happen.”

Patrick’s whole mood has changed. I feel guilty for even suggesting they entertain Kenna’s reasoning. She got herself here, and instead of expecting everyone in Scotty’s life to conform to her situation, the easier and less damaging thing would be for her to accept the consequences of her actions and respect the decision Scotty’s parents have made.

I wonder what Scotty would have wanted if he could have seen this outcome. We all know the wreck, while preventable, was also an accident. But was he mad at her for leaving him? Did he die hating her?

Or would he be ashamed of his parents—
and me
—for keeping Kenna from Diem?

I’ll never have that answer, and neither will anyone else. It’s why I always find something else to focus on when I start wondering if we’re all going against what Scotty would have wanted.

I lean back in the patio chair and stare at the jungle gym that will hopefully start to take shape soon. As I stare at it, I think of Scotty. This is exactly why I tore it down.

“Scotty and I smoked our first cigarette in that jungle gym,” I say to Patrick. “We were thirteen.”

Patrick laughs and leans back in his chair. He seems relieved that I’ve changed the subject. “Where did you two get cigarettes at thirteen?”

“My dad’s truck.”

Patrick shakes his head.

“We drank our first beer there. We got high for the first time there. And if I remember correctly, Scotty had his first kiss there.”

“Who was she?” Patrick asks.

“Dana Freeman. She lived down the street. She was my first kiss too. That was the only fight me and Scotty ever got into.”

“Who kissed her first?”

“I did. Scotty swooped in like a fucking eagle and took her from me. Pissed me off, but not because I liked her. I just didn’t like that she chose him over me. We didn’t speak for like eight whole hours.”

“Well, it’s only fair. He was so much better looking than you.”

I laugh.

Patrick sighs, and now we’re both thinking about Scotty and it’s bringing the energy down. I hate how often this happens. I wonder if it’ll ever start to happen less.

“Do you think Scotty wished I was different?” Patrick asks.

“What do you mean? You were a great dad.”

“I’ve worked in an office crunching sales figures my whole life. Sometimes I wondered if he ever wished I was something better, like a firefighter. Or an athlete. I wasn’t the type of dad he could brag about.”

I feel bad that Patrick thinks Scotty would have wanted him to be any different than he was. I think back to the many conversations Scotty and I had about our future, and one of those conversations sticks out to me.

“Scotty never wanted to move away,” I say. “He wanted to meet a girl and have kids and take them to the movies every weekend and to Disney World every summer. I remember thinking he was crazy when he said that, because my dreams were way bigger. I told him I wanted to play football and travel the world and own businesses and have a steady cash flow. I wasn’t about the simple life like he was,” I say to Patrick. “I remember, after I told him how important I wanted to be, he said, ‘I don’t want to be important. I don’t want the pressure. I want to slide under the radar like my dad, because when he comes home at night, he’s in a good mood.’”

Patrick is quiet for a while, but then he says, “You’re full of shit. He never said that.”

“I swear,” I say with a laugh. “He said things like that all the time. He loved you just the way you were.”

Patrick leans forward and stares at the ground, clasping his hands together. “Thank you for that. Even if it isn’t true.”

“It’s true,” I say, reassuring him. But Patrick still seems sad. I try to think of one of the lighter stories about Scotty. “One time, we were sitting inside the jungle gym, and out of nowhere, this pigeon landed in the yard. It was only three or four feet away from us. Scotty looked at it and said, ‘Is that a fucking
pigeon
?’ And I don’t know why, maybe because we were both high, but we laughed so hard at that. We laughed until we cried. And for years, up until he died, every time we’d see something that didn’t make sense, Scotty would say, ‘Is that a fucking
pigeon
?’”

Patrick laughs. “
That’s
why he always said that?”

I nod.

Patrick starts laughing even harder. He laughs until he cries.

And then he just cries.

When the memories start to hit Patrick like this, I always walk away and leave him alone. He’s not the type who wants comfort when he’s sad. He just wants solitude.

I go inside and close the door, wondering if it’ll ever get better for him and Grace. It’s only been five years, but will he still need to cry alone in ten years? Twenty?

I want so badly for them to heal, but the loss of a child is a wound that never heals. It makes me wonder if Kenna cries like Patrick and Grace do.

Did she feel that kind of loss when they took Diem from her?

Because if she did, I can’t imagine Grace and Patrick would willingly allow her to continue to feel it, since they know what it feels like firsthand.

BOOK: Reminders of Him
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